Why in the world did the Jets choose a “Cover Zero” defense if they “knew” the Broncos were going to run the ball on a third-and-4 from their own 20-yard line with 1:09 remaining?
Coach Rex Ryan didn’t want to get into it after being Tebow-ed on Thursday night by the most polarizing player in the NFL in a 17-13 loss that dropped his team’s record to 5-5. But after further contemplation, here was his “explanation” during a Friday morning conference call with reporters if, of course, you want to call it that.
“Hindsight behind 20-20, obviously, we would’ve done something, anything but that,” said Ryan, whose all-out blitz lost outside contain and gave up a game-winning 20-yard TD scamper to Tim Tebow with 58 seconds left. “But at the time, you make several calls in a game. At that time, we had pressured him. We thought there were going to do really what they did. They ran verticals in the passing game, so we wanted to pressure it, and quite honestly, he made a great play.
“If you had to do it over again, of course you would’ve called something else, knowing the result. I even told the defense before [the play], this kid is not going to take the ball out of his hand. He is going to keep it in his hand, and that’s exactly what he did. He ended up just making a great play. None of us saw it coming. The call wouldn’t have come in that way if we didn’t think we’d actually get better.”
The Jets were ahead 13-10 when defensive coordinator Mike Pettine made the call that may end up killing their postseason aspirations. They countered the Broncos’ three-wide receiver, one-running back shotgun formation with a “Cover Zero” defense, meaning eight blitzers, man-to-man coverage on Denver's wideouts and no deep safety.
Before the snap, Tebow looked to his left and saw Eric Smith, who had outside contain on his left. The Broncos quarterback recognized immediately that if he could beat the Jets safety he’d be able to break the play for a big gain. Tebow took the snap out of the shotgun at the 25, dropped back about two steps and began to make a break for the left side of the field at the 30.
Smith took an absolutely horrendous angle, and lost contain on the outside. Tebow easily outflanked Smith, got around the edge and had him beat at the 25. Tebow had nothing but green ahead of him as he ran untouched 15 yards down the field. In hot-pursuit, Smith dove for Tebow’s legs at the 10 and got his fingers on Tebow’s left leg about two yards later.
Smith nearly tripped up Tebow, but the Denver signal-caller, who had cut it back, was able to elude the arm tackle, keep his balance near the 5 and jaunt into the end zone for six. Antonio Cromartie could’ve had a shot at perhaps stopping Tebow near the goal-line, but he was being blocked by Eric Decker.
A jubilant Tebow pumped his fists, and was promptly tackled by his teammates in the back of the end zone. He pointed toward the sky and later could be seen praying on one knee on the sideline. The Jets, on the other hand, were stunned.
The legend of Tim Tebow had grown -- at the expense of the Jets’ defense.
“When you look at it, it’s a tough thing on him,” Ryan said when asked about Smith’s angle. “I’ll just say this, it’s a tough assignment. There is no question. Quite honestly, I’ll take Eric Smith every day of the week. He’s a tremendous player. Could we have said, ‘Hey, [have] him be wider? Should the end be wider? Everybody be wider.’ Maybe you could’ve, but you have to give Tebow credit. He made the play. I will say this, Eric sold out. Eric laid it on the line for us and we came up a little empty. [He] made a diving stab at him, but he never quite got him on the ground. Again, when you look at it, I think it’s easy to obviously second-guess, but we need to start looking forward, instead of behind us.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Jets’ defense neutralized Tebow for the first 54 minutes, 6 seconds, holding him to just 6 for 15 passing for 69 yards and two carries for 11 yards on Denver’s first 11 drives. Those 11 drives resulted in eight punts, a turnover on downs, a forced fumble and a field goal.
But on their final drive -- which went 12 plays and 95 yards in 4 minutes, 56 seconds -- Tebow went 3 for 5 for 35 yards and ran six times for 57 yards and the game-winning score.
“He did it. Tim Tebow did it,” Darrelle Revis said. He shocked me, he probably shocked a lot of people, but he did it.
“We played them well through the whole game, until that last play. We played them well. Tim Tebow's legs took them to victory, ran them to victory.”